For the past month, Kathy and I have been furiously at work managing 7 volunteer projects as part of Belk’s 125 Days of Service. To celebrate its 125th anniversary as the nation’s largest, family-owned department store, Belk made a corporate commitment to moblize volunteers from each of their stores across their 16-state footprint, partnering with local HandsOn affiliates to create and manage service projects in nearby Title I schools. We were honored to be able to serve as a “service sherpa” between local Belk stores and schools in seven of our local communities: Lexington, Mt. Airy, Statesville, Mooresville, Wilkesboro, Elkin, and, our biggest, right here in Winston-Salem.
At each of these sites, employees spent 2-4 hours assembling picnic tables, building book shelves, and painting canvases for use in the schools. At the larger sites, even more projects were tackled. In every case, the school has been touched by the generosity, and the Belk manager has made a commitment to try and nurture the relationship long-term. The employees had fun, and the schools were excited by the possibilities presented by the fruits of the volunteers’ labors–each have seemed especially excited by different aspects of the project, which is great! It’s been a very positive experience for us, and has really gotten us thinking about the benefits of corporate volunteerism and what we could do locally to help present engagement opportunities to local companies.
But in the midst of all of this engagement work–after all, volunteer engagement is what we do–we were able to be the direct beneficiaries of corporate volunteerism for the first time. For the past four years, we have helped mobilized teams of BB&T volunteers as part of their Project Lighthouse initiative. We send out Request for Projects to our network, and present a huge slate of options to local BB&T contacts. Thousands of volunteers are engaged in service through Project Lighthouse each year, and we have heard the stories that our local nonprofit partners have shared of their work. Yet, we have never submitted a project ourselves. This year, our main BB&T contact urged us to put a project for ourselves on the list….and so we did. The results, which we are benefiting from this morning, almost had us in tears yesterday. But first a little history….
Here at HandsOn, we do a lot of work out and about in the community, with very few people. When we are in our offices, two, three or even four of us share a small, two-room space on the second floor of the Winston-Salem Red Cross building (for which we are incredibly grateful.) We’re often in and out–dumping off supplies and meeting materials, and snatching up what we need for the next project or meeting or training. We don’t have the luxury of admin staff, and practically every piece of furniture we had was passed down from the Red Cross. For the past five years, we’ve been very good at “making do,” making our offices work for us as best we can. So, we decided to ask these BB&T volunteers to “refresh” our office space.
The team spent four hours yesterday afternoon transforming our space. Gone are the piles of old meeting notes and outdated Business Journals! Gone is the rickety computer desk that we used for our printer and office supplies–no more falling binder clips to land between your toes! Window treatments! New plants! And–most importantly–FIVE new pieces of office furniture order to meet our space and requirements. When we saw the re-done space for the first time yesterday, it was like the “reveal” on Trading Spaces. I think Kathy and I were both almost in tears. We’re already feeling more productive in the “new” space. (How can you tell? I have the time to write a blog post!)
It was certainly a different (and transformative) experience to be on this side of the corporate volunteerism equation. And we loved it! The best part–it was clear that the BB&T employees loved doing it, too. How rare, it was said, for them to be able to accomplish something as part of their “job” that you could document in a before and after picture. (Our team’s leader, Angela Hill, is a “Sourcing Event Analyst” in the “Enterprise Spend Management,” and if you know what that means, you are waaaaay smarter than me.) They had fun potting plants, making and hanging curtains, drawing up new plans for the space, hanging pictures, and cleaning out cobwebs. They came together as a team. And they made the work of this one little nonprofit infinitely better in the space of a single afternoon.
Many are jaded by stories of corporate volunteerism. Don’t be. These projects are sowing seeds, and may yet yield significant relationship fruits. The process is positive–for all involved.